Thursday, October 15, 2009

Alfie Kohn on our red tickets

In an exchange of emails with A Blog About School, Alfie Kohn, author and advocate of humane approaches to education, had this to say about our reward tickets program:

"Ugh" is right. What drives me crazy about programs like this one is the tendency to do things TO children (like dangling goodies in front of them) to make them behave in whatever ways the adults demand, rather than working WITH children to help them become independent, critical thinkers who are part of a democratic community. In other words, the problem with PBIS and umpteen similar programs that have come and gone before it is not only with the technique (essentially, manipulation) but also with the goal (compliance).

In response to your blog: I'm not sure it's necessary to say, in effect, "Research may support the use of rewards, but research isn't everything." If the outcome evaluated in the research is temporary compliance, then, sure, rewards, like punishments, can be "effective." But if the outcome being studied is kids' commitment to good values or learning, generosity or responsibility or love of learning, then research not only fails to support the value of incentive programs; scores of studies demonstrate that rewards -- and a behavioral focus more generally -- actually do harm. I've reviewed this literature in Punished by Rewards, Beyond Discipline, and in many articles (available on my website). In effect, carrot-and-stick control makes no sense regardless of whether we're concerned about respectful ways of dealing with children or what the data say. There's no need to concede the latter to the behaviorists!

I am certainly not conceding that research supports the use of programs like this one, or that they "work" in achieving anything other than short term compliance. My point has only been that value judgments have to come first, before we can decide what's important to measure. Kohn's books and articles, which thoroughly review the evidence about the effects of rewards programs, appear here. His conclusion: we're in for some more "unintended consequences," to put it mildly.

By the way, Kohn's email was titled: "PBIS = TKLP (Treating Kids Like Pets)".

Related posts:

Behavioral, yes. Positive and supporting? Maybe not.

Evidence and values

What’s good for General Motors . . .


Weird science

Some company in Connecticut

Caution: Experts at work (continued)

Treating kids like pets, continued

Scenes from the first week of school

..How can I comment?